One afternoon in January 2010, some 50 farmers and others gathered in a mediaeval library in Oxford to debate the future of food and farming. Meeting at the same time as the prestigious Oxford Farming Conference, they were interested in a new approach to agriculture and food production, one which puts sustainability, farmers and food producers at the centre of the food system, challenging industrialised farming’s methods of high tech production, catering to global markets. The idea for the conference caught on and the Oxford Real Farming Conference (ORFC) was established.
This conference, now in its tenth year, is centred around farmers and growers, but it draws a wide array of people – scientists, nutritionists, chefs and other food producers, economists, policy-makers and artists – with the aim of exploring together how we can develop a better food system. The result is a highly energizing and inspiring brew which gives an annual boost to a growing movement of food activists from all walks of life. This year’s event attracted 1000 delegates to Oxford Town Hall, half of them farmers, with dozens of workshops, fringe events and informal gatherings, all leavened with art, poetry and good food.
In the words of Colin Tudge, co-founder with Ruth West of the ORFC and the Campaign for Real Farming, the purpose of the event is to promote “enlightened agriculture”, that is, “farming … expressly designed to provide everyone, everywhere, forever, with food of the highest quality, without cruelty or injustice, and without wrecking the rest of the world”. It’s based on four principles – agroecology, food sovereignty, economic democracy, and respect for traditional knowledge – and by drawing together different elements of the food system it allows a new vision of a the relationship between food and society to emerge.
There has always been a strong contingent from Wales in attendance, and this year we had our very own session centred on the Wales Food Manifesto. Chaired by Alicia Miller of Troed y Rhiw Organics, it focused on the need for a holistic approach to Wales’ food system that recognises the necessary inter-relatedness of food, farming and environmental policies and concerns and brings them into dialogue with one another. Speakers included Pamela Mason, author of Sustainable Diets, speaking on nutrition; Dr Eifiona Thomas-Lane of Bangor university discussing the importance of the Welsh language in rural culture; Arfon Williams at the RSPB on the importance of environmentally sustainable farming practice; Farmers Gerald Miles (Caerhys Organics) and Nathan Richards (Troed y Rhiw Organics) offering perspectives on how to encourage a new generation of farmers into farming; and Jane Powell, speaking about LEAF Education and its role in educating young people about farming and food.
Together with delegates from Wales who were in the audience, we explored some of the possibilities for engaging the pubic more deeply in food and farming issues and encouraging new, environmentally sound approaches to farming. We introduced the idea of doing our own version of the ORFC in Wales and found enthusiastic support – so the Wales Real Food and Farming Conference (or in Welsh, Cynhadledd Gwir Fwyd a Ffermio Cymru) is in development now.
The Conference will take place at Aberystwyth University on 11 and 12 November 2019. We inserted food into the title because food is what brings us together, and we don’t want to suggest that there is anything ‘unreal’ about the excellent Wales Farming Conference which Farming Connect runs. This conference will welcome anyone who is interested in fresh approaches to farming, growing and eating in Wales.
We want farmers and growers to thrive, to be appreciated by their local communities, to be rewarded for what they do, and get the support they need to produce healthy food for everyone, in a fair and responsible way that builds biodiversity and human culture. We want everyone in Wales to have healthy food to eat. We invite anyone with an interest in this, to join us – suggest a workshop or a speaker, join the organizing team, and of course, buy a ticket and come along for a whole new event in Welsh food and farming.